We interviewed up-and-coming young film director E.Gan-Ochir, who won the Best Film Script Award at the 14th Ulaanbaatar International Film Festival, which took place from October 17 to 23.
As part of the Mongolian Film Program of the festival, the Khangarid Awards named the best films and artists. In particular, E.Gan-Ochir and N.Maidar received the award for the best film script with“The Coach” film. The audience got to watch the film during the festival. E.Gan-Ochir won the right to make his next production in cooperation with Nomadia Pictures Company.
How did you get into filmmaking?
After graduating from university in 2010, I started working at the documentary film studio of NTV. At that time, G.Batnyagt and M.Buyanbadrakh were working on the “Mongolian Family of the World” Project. That’s how I got to know documentary films, took part in their production and fell in love with this genre of cinematography.
While I was working in the studio, director B.Nagnaidorj implemented the “Lights and Shadows of the 20th Century” Project and produced a series of programs about 28 famous Mongolian directors. Back then, I got the opportunity to work as an assistant editor. It was a rare opportunity for me to learn about the history of Mongolian cinematography. I listened to the stories of famous directors, watched their works and became more and more engrossed in filmmaking. At that time, I secretly wanted to become a director.
How do you feel when you are called “director” now?
I am worried about being called a director. Somehow, I’m frightened of it.
How many documentaries have you made?
I’ve filmed five documentaries. In 2014, together with my friends, I established Bosgo Film Company. I am not sure if it was because I studied about famous film directors, listened to the speeches of great directors such as B.Baljinnyam, Kh.Damdin and J.Binder and made tv programs about them, but I had the desire to make a documentary about theater directors. That’s how I came to make a documentary about famous playwrights and directors L.Vangan, Ch.Oidov and E.Oyun.
Now I am working on a film about D.Namdag, one of the main representatives of Mongolian modern literature, playwrights and pioneers of Mongolian theater art. Since I fell in love with cinematography, I have been watching and studying the works of famous foreign directors such as Russian film director Andrei Tarkovsky, Italy’s Federico Fellini, South Korea’s Kim Kiduk and Hong Kong’s Wong Kar-wai. The more I study about artists and directors, the more I think, “How did they do it? How did they think that? How?”
Why did you decide to make a feature film?
In 2015, when I was producing a TV program called “Book’s Brightness” on NTV, I met writer B.Naminchimed and he gave me his “At the Age of Becoming God” book. There is a story in the book named “Boy and Book”. It felt like a movie to me when I read it. After five years of writing and thinking about writing the script in different ways, in 2020, with the support of the Council on Mongolian National Brands, I made the “Do Remember” film.
Does that mean you were writing screenplays before doing this movie?
I was trying to write. I helped write the script for the “Parallel World” movie with Ts.Amartuvshin from Studio F and “Manny Dad” with D.Khurelkhuu. I previously read that the worst movies are the ones you make about yourself. But for some reason, in every film I make, I include parts based on my own memories, the things I’ve seen and the people I’ve met. Of course, I blend them with the theme, idea and plot of the film. It seems to me that this makes the film closer to the truth and life.
You have successfully participated in international film festivals with your first film “Do Remember”. Do you plan to foster this success with the movie “The Coach”?
I participated in nine international festivals with “Do Remember”. Among them, I won the Best Script Award at the Kazan International Muslim Film Festival and the Best Director Award at the British International Film Festival. Later, the film was selected as the opening film of the Taiwan International Film Festival and screened for the audience there. Sometimes, it feels like a dream to me. I often think, “Is this really happening? Is it real?” This is all thanks to my colleagues who have worked hand in hand with me for many years. I am very proud of them. Of course, I am thrilled that I achieved a certain success with my first piece but I want to strengthen it.
How did you make your “The Coach” movie?
Amid the pandemic, a non-governmental organization offered me to write a film with the aim of making society and people better understand people with disabilities. I heard a story when I was doing research and meeting a lot of people before I started writing. It went, “A group of boys play basketball every day on the streets of a ger area. Among them, there is a boy in a wheelchair. After the others go to school, this boy sits alone outside his yard, waiting for them to come back.” I enriched this story with my childhood memories and wrote a screenplay. Unfortunately, the NGO was unable to finance the film. After some time, P.Batmyagmar, who was the executive producer of “Do Remember”, said, “Do you have a ready script?” When I showed him the script, he advised me, “This is a bit of the arthouse type. How about making it a little more commercial?” Therefore, in collaboration with N.Maidar, the daughter of B.Naminchimed, I edited the script a little. While editing, I envisioned actress R.Ankhnyam as the main character of the film or the mother of the boy and wrote the script for her. Fortunately, she supported me and accepted my offer. I chose B.Bat-Uugan, who played the main role in “Do Remember”, for this work as well. We held an audition for the role but I felt that he would be able to pull it off well.
Ever since I was a student, I have been a spectator at the Ulaanbaatar International Film Festival, waiting for and excitedly watching films from many countries. But this year, I participated in it for the first time and won the award for the best film script. Thanks to this film, I will now be able to make my next work together with Nomadia Pictures. We will premiere the new film on November 25.
How do you feel when you see people watching your work in cinemas?
I get nervous when I see people watching my work. I couldn’t help but think of the parts that I could have edited out during the screening of “Do Remember”. I was very worried. When “The Coach” was shown during the Ulaanbaatar International Film Festival, I was anxious and couldn’t sit still. R.Ankhnyam saw me and made fun of me. But now that it’s out of my hands and already shown to the audience, I think I’ll leave the film to its own fate.
What made you fall in love with cinematography?
My father used to buy me interesting books that made me fascinated with literature. That’s why I studied literature. But when I worked in television, I was drawn to painting and photography. These have become the basis of my love for movies. It seems that as you fall in love, your feelings develop and you become obsessed with them. Movies are like life. They’re interesting because they show a part of a person’s life, especially the most vivid parts. On the other hand, it’s also fun to brainstorm ways to show what’s behind the secrets in life than what is visible on the “screen”.
Do you have any scripts you want to make a movie with?
Yes, I have several film scripts. Specifically, I am a big fan of author P.Bayarsaikhan. If I get the chance, I would like to make a movie based on his works. Because I grew up in a village, I like to show the life and relationships of people in the countryside in my films.
You are making a TV series in cooperation with South Korean KBS TV. Can you elaborate on this?
It is not a joint work. Studio 16 got the official rights to the four-episode mini-series “The Age of Crazy Love”, produced by KBS TV, and produced six episodes themselves. But I started to work on this production thanks to “Do Remember”. Since it is a film for teenagers, they were looking for a director who had previously made films on this subject. We have completed the film. But the producers will decide when and how it will be delivered to the audience.
Do you have any characteristics that you would like to incorporate into each film?
The fact that I started my career in documentary films influences my current works. It seems to be my special trait. I wanted to make an arthouse film first. That’s why I made “Do Remember”. I’ve scored and lost with it. But then, I experimented by making a commercial film, “The Coach”. Famous directors such as Zhang Yimou and Sam Mendes are able to create works that strongly address social issues but at the same time, meet the demands of the market.
Will you work in a combination of feature and documentary films in the future?
Of course, I will. We are also researching and trying new ways to make a documentary film interesting. I have two documentary projects planned for the near future. The first documentary tells about how long-song singer G.Dadisuren taught N.Norovbanzad the song “Uyakhan Zambuu Tiviin Naran” and how it spread to the world. The other is called “Rainbow”. It tells about a herder’s six-year-old daughter who goes to school and lives in a dormitory. We shot the film two years ago. The aim was to film the girl until she graduated from high school and show how she grows, learns and matures.